The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXI – Meeting the Nocturnals

English: River diggings at Gong Gong. Gong Gon...

Yes, I think we can squeeze in another manse here!

The Nocturnals, for a wonder, only wanted an opinion… They wanted to show him one of their basic tricks and see what his thoughts were on it – although Catherine didn’t want to be too specific in public.

Or even in Dudael, for that matter.

Charles offered to set up a meeting in the privacy manse – after all, he was doing the coming-out thing anyway – but they had their own place set up (although Catherine did admit that it was probably not as good). Still, Charles was quite willing to use theirs.

Catherine took him to the borders of a mortal slum – and to a back-alley access-way to the passageways below. She quietly looked around, making sure that there were no observers – and Charles cheerily set some concealed privacy wards. When she was satisfied that no one was spying and the bystanders were too busy at a nearby market to pay any attention to them, she pried up the cover – revealing a ladder – and headed on down.

Charles cheerfully followed along…

(Catherine) “Think you can get the cover? I don’t want to leave any sign of us being here, and since I don’t want anything to get you, I need to go first.”

Charles reached up and pulled it back into place – slightly startling Catherine, who’d been expecting him to use Thaumaturgy as he did for so many things; the appearances of god-bloods were often pretty deceptive – but he certainly didn’t LOOK like he should be able to heft a massive jade slab that easily!

Oh, of course. He probably had some artifact that gave him strength. He did seem to have an artifact for EVERYTHING after all. It was surprising that no one had tried to nab him just to raid his collection!

(Catherine) “Thanks.”

The ladder led down to a well-used access tunnel. The adamant glowed faintly as usual, and the area had been warded against deiphages (that was reasonably common beneath settled areas). While the warding was not nearly at Charles’s level it was definitely Exalted-tier…

Catherine looked around again, and led the way down the corridor, past various blocked-off corridors (some blocked by rubble, some by actual barricades) until she reached a dead end – or what looked like one. Charles could sense the workings of a Private Plaza of Downcast Eyes just ahead.

(Catherine) “Okay… one moment while I let them know we’re here.”

She knocked on the adamant… After a few seconds it disappeared… It looked rather like a transmutation, much as he’d done before. The room was actually well-furnished, with a large table, around ten chairs, and cushions for twice that number. There was a refrigerator in the corner, and even a television set hooked up to a generator. Vaal, Mr. Montague’s Comet Caste partner/door guardian, was watching that. Argentia, daughter of Moonsbane and Nebula Caste, was checking the wards. She waved at them… Vaal turned, saw them, and waved as well.

Charles cheerily waved back and let the TV power up without the noisy generator…

(Vaal) “Um, thanks… hey, Catherine, wasn’t Astrid coming too?”

(Catherine) “Territory business… anyway, did you scout out a new hideout like I asked?”

Vaal nodded.

(Catherine) “Yeah… what we’re about to show you is… well, I’ll let Argentia explain. She’s got the most talent for it.”

(Argentia) “Me? Well… okay. Charles, what’s your favorite food?”

(Charles) “Peanut butter!”

(Argentia) “Hey, Vaal! That’s more your domain! Stop watching that silly cartoon and give him some peanut butter!”

(Vaal) “What? Uh… OK!”

Suddenly, reality started unraveling around Charles’s hands. He could see the strands unwinding… then rewinding… and forming into a jar of peanut butter. They finished weaving themselves together, and there it was!

Hm. A bit of a fate disturbance, but no essence.

(Charles) “Oh neat! Hmm… Working on the deep chaos level would requires an unbinding and respinning of the threads, but overdoing that will create the same kind of disturbances that the higher-order sorceries do! That normally calls for some active essence though… This seems more like… an inverted equivalent of Sidereal Astrology! Reweaving the threads to bring a localized “what if” into reality!

(Argentia) “Actually… the Sidereals say that it does indeed work on the Loom! When Vaal did that, a pattern spider might have lost its balance from the vibrations.”

(Catherine, bringing over some bread and a knife.) “And I’d make a sandwich and eat it . . . it’ll unweave in about half an hour.”

(Charles) “That’s one way to stay skinny!”

(Argentia) “And that’s one of the weaker things we can do. I had to try some stronger things involving… you, actually.”

(Charles) “Oh? Why?”

(Argentia nodded towards Vaal.) “His partner asked me to. It didn’t work, though. We needed you present.”

(Charles) “So what do you need”

After all, it wasn’t like he was entirely “present” NOW.

(Argentia) “He wouldn’t say why, but he wanted me to restore your earliest memories.”

Vaal shrugged.

(Charles) “Oh! He just wanted to know where I came from…”

Hm. Could that work? You’d have to be… reaching for the results of a divergence that had magnified over many years, and affect a massive scale – he was kind of large now – and he was mostly outside of fate and the loom anyway these days. It would have to be quite a divergence too! It was extremely natural for early memories to be fuzzy or absent entirely…

(Argentia) “Well… I’m not sure I can do that for him, anyway. Going that far back is rough.”

(Charles) “Well… if you’re operating on the loom directly, you’d be temporarily manifesting a bit of an alternate reality as an overlay on this universe, right? Thus the further in the past, the greater the divergence, and the greater the strain?”

(Argentia) “That’s pretty much my thoughts on it too. The Sidereals don’t want us doing ones that strong, but he’d gotten permission for it.”

(Catherine) “Yeah, reshaping reality like this puts a lot of strain on the Loom. They don’t want us using even the weakest shapings willy-nilly. It’s a pain… I can do stuff that’d be pretty useful at Dudael.”

(Charles) “And rather than unraveling an area to get at the deeper chaos like high sorcery you’re basically removing a chunk and pulling in a temporary patch… I can see where they’d have problems!”

(Catherine) “Yeah, we’re allowed three of the weakest ones, and one medium one, per day. Jose’s pretty mum on why. (She looked somewhat annoyed by that.) I guess it’s to keep things from unraveling, though.”

(Charles) “Well… they’re having a really hard time keeping up with the repairs now.”

(Catherine) “Yeah… been weeks since I’ve seen him. Gods know he doesn’t need MORE work… Anyway, Argentia, did you prepare those materials?”

(Argentia) “Yes… I think I got everything in here.”

She removed what appears to be a yasal crystal from her dress.

(Argentia) “This contains more information. Catherine and Astrid didn’t want to keep you too long, since they know you’re busy. They just wanted to show you what we’d found and get your opinion on it.”

(Vaal) “It… won’t blow up the Loom, will it? Argentia and Monty say that would be bad.”

(Charles) “Information doesn’t usually! But I suppose it could if it was fundamental and paradoxial enough… Reality does depend a lot on just ignoring some of the dicier bits!… Hm. It might be best to forget I said that!”

Vaal gave Charles a blank look, then went back to watching TV.

(Catherine) “I hope not… well, too bad Astrid couldn’t make it. She wanted to ask you something, but couldn’t tell me more beyond that.”

(Charles) “I could ask her!”

(Catherine) “Well, okay. She said you’d visited while she was off on patrol once, so . . .”

Charles dodged around the privacy effects by placing the link from his manifestation in Aden.

(Astrid, sounding somewhat winded) “How on all the worlds – oh, Charles! That would explain it. How are you?”

(Charles) “I’m doing well! But I was told there was something you wanted to ask me if this link is private enough for that?”

(Astrid) “Knowing you, I don’t think even Gus would complain about privacy. It’s about that prototype gate. Has Catherine told you about the Fluctuations yet?”

A quick check of the yasal crystal indicated that was what had Vaal demonstrated.

(Charles) “Just started too!”

(Astrid) “I see. I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you as well, but we’re just finishing up a raid repulsion over here. Anyhow… I was wondering if you could make those work with abilities other than the Mirror-Shattering Method.”

(Charles) “Hm. Well, the principle is sound enough… Is it just the specific charm effect? I could probably make do with divination or geomancy! And do let me know if you need help with a raid or something!”

(Astrid) “Divination would work… or maybe fortune! The effect I’m talking about actually uses our fluctuations. It’s powerful, but has some strange side effects.”

(Charles) “Hm. Is the mirror-shattering method causing a problem, or do you just want ones you can influence more directly?”

(Astrid) “Goodness no… by all means, keep the Mirror-Shattering Method in there! I was just wondering if you had some means of affecting more… probability-based travel. And if we actually have a siege around here, I’ll call for your assistance. I hope that day never comes; those are always vicious.”

(Charles) “Oh! You want to access alternate realities?”

(Astrid) “Argentia does say that might be possible, but… hmm. Gus said you liked science fiction . . .” (She takes a quick moment, presumably to refer to something.) “It’s something like a probability drive, but without the ship.”

(Charles) “Well, for that I’d need to unlock the Phase of the Moon Generator! I was leaving that locked out for the moment because I don’t really have any coordinates for “safe” alternates, and opening gates at random can really mess things up!”

(Astrid) “If it would cause too much trouble, by all means keep it locked until you’ve worked out the bugs. The side effects are more annoying than dangerous. And I would hate to cause you trouble after all you’ve done for us.”

(Charles) “ Oh, it’s not ME… But opening full gates into alternate realities can let all sorts of things through, and there were plenty of places to go in this reality already – so I was leaving alternate realities for later. You should be able to navigate them though, so unlocking a few would be easy enough!”

Wait, the boy had ALREADY installed trans-dimensional capabilities? Unlocking a “few”?! Did he mean just a few worlds? No, that couldn’t be it; he’d said that he didn’t have coordinates for alternate worlds… On a “few” gates then? Could that possibly mean that he had multiple gates completed ALREADY?

(Astrid) “We’ve been practicing. So far the results have been promising, particularly on the time end.”

(Charles) “Well… it looked to me like an awful lot of the nearby timelines terminated in the Wyld. It seemed like at one point there must have been a LOT of serious threats to the survival of Creation!”

(Astrid) “That’s probably one of your many theories on things… but with little more than Wyld in those Creations, reality would be as malleable as putty and quite easy to cut through with one’s will.”

She carefully considered her next statement.

(Astrid) “Even with all the risks… what would you do if I told you that we had found a potentially near-instananeous form of interstellar travel?”

(Charles) “Those are always good!”

If it were possible to smile over a link, Astrid would be doing it.

(Astrid) “Then we have a bit more to talk about… but that can wait until you’ve done more work on the prototype you already have.”

(Charles) “OK! It does seem to work, but there are occasional bits of weirdness!”

(Astrid) “Wonderful! You’ll have to demonstrate to everyone some time.”

It didn’t really occur to Charles that it would probably be a shock when he spontaneously installed two dozen of the things in the great plaza…

(Charles) “I should be able to get some ready fairly soon!”

(Astrid) “Well, I shouldn’t keep you much longer. I’m sure you have many things to do . . . and I need to supervise this cleanup. Nothing too bad – just a bit of bloodshed outside the wards.”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, I’m trying to do something about that! Hopefully it will work out! I hope that it will go well!”

(Astrid) “So I’ve heard and seen. Your armor and sword were quite helpful, by the way.”

(Charles) “Oh good! If you need any more armor, do let me know!”

(Astrid) “I’ll definitely consider it… and thank you.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Astrid) “Goodbye, dear, and . . . please don’t overextend yourself.”

(Charles looked rather doubtful on that one) “Well… I’ll try not to!”

(Astrid) “And I’ll try to do the same…”

She dropped the link at that point.

(Charles, to the rest) “Was there anything else you needed?”

(Catherine) “Well… not right now, but I’ll ask when I do.”

(Argentia) “No. Thanks for visiting us!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome! And do let me know if you need help with something!”

(Vaal) “Oh yeah! I just remembered!”

He handed Charles what appeared to be a work order… for that adamant short daiklave he had that didn’t technically exist yet.

(Charles) “Oh, that was for… about another three years out on my initial reading. Of course since then that might have changed; the future is a bit indeterminate anyway!”

(Vaal) “Yeah, he just wanted to get that in while he could. He says if he doesn’t, someone else might outmaneuver him on the reservation. I’m fine with it… somewhat existing? I try not to think about it too much; it makes my brain hurt.”

(Charles) “OK! I’ll file it in the Que for the appropriate time! I don’t think it’s wise to unnecessarily tamper with temporal loops!”

(Vaal) “Great! Thanks!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Catherine) “Well, let’s go back up, Charles… another way, just to be sure.”